Popular poplarsThe Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s most ancient squares. Its name translates as the Peoples’ Square, but the original derivation comes from the poplar trees that once covered the area. While a bit out of the way of the city centre, it is conveniently near to Galleria Borghese and the Villa Borghese Gardens, making for a wonderful day out.
The famous Porta del Popolo, a decorative gated archway at the northern end of the Piazza, is an ancient Roman gate which used to be known as the Porta Flaminia. The Porta Flaminia was the most northern gateway in the ancient Roman city and led on to the most important route to northern Italy, the Via Flaminia. It was the first view travellers would have had of Rome, before the invention of railways.
The Porta del Popolo is set amidst the old Aurelian Walls, which were built in the third century AD and which enclosed the Seven Hills of Rome. Tucked away in the northern corner, just inside the Porta del Popolo, is the impressive Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
, an Augustinian church built in 1099 which houses an astounding array of masterpieces by some of Rome’s most notable artists. Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio are just some of the big names who have lent their talent to the interior decoration; a Museum of Leonardo Da Vinci is also located beside the church.
The modern Piazza was designed by Giuseppe Valadier in the early 1800s. It is a wide open square with two ornate fountains on either side which are flanked in a semicircle by a line of sphinxes, ending in two statues of gods or goddesses. This semicircular frame replaced the earlier trapezoidal shape and gave the space a more cohesive feel with a central focus. In the middle of the Piazza is the colossal ancient Egyptian obelisk of Seti I or the Flaminio Obelisk, adorned with four lion fountains: the obelisk was removed from Heliopolis to Rome in 10 BC after the Romans conquered Egypt, and is one of the oldest Egyptian monuments in the city.